April 4, 2012

Spring Green

Have you ever had fresh broccoli?  Like picked just hours before eating, fresh?  Oh man, it's a game changer.  How anyone ever used the word bitter to describe its taste will totally escape you when you eat it that fresh.  It's sweet and mild and the "green" flavor is incredibly mellow.  This stuff ruins your commercial grocery store broccoli - and that's a good thing.

After working at a farmer's market, I take anyone's declaration that they don't care for a certain food (more specifically vegetables and fruits) as a personal challenge.  I'm convinced that they need only to try it fresh, sold to them by the same hands that grew and harvested that food to change their minds and make them a believer.  Yep, I'm that person.

You know who else I am?  I'm the one who, when you invite me over for dinner, or a potluck, or insert event here where there is this food, I bring the salad.  Or some vegetable.  I always show up with the "healthy" dish, it never fails.  I don't mean it as a commentary on what you're serving and I'm certainly not judging you (I like you! We're friends!  Your food is probably good too!), it's just that I suffer from crippling anxiety that there will be no vegetables for me to eat.

This salad of broccoli and quinoa is just the kind of dish you'd expect me to show up with for a few reasons.  First, it's just so dang pretty when it's plated.  When you top it all off with toasted sliced almonds, creamy avocado pieces and crumbled feta, it dosen't look like you're trying to cram some sort of health food down people's throats.  Second, it packs quite the vegetable punch.  Sure you can see the sweet little broccoli florets tucked in there, but every single bit of this quinoa is coated in a broccoli pesto that is to die for.  Using the freshest broccoli and just barely steaming it keep it's sweet quality intact and ensures there's no bitter taste or sulfurous smell.  What's that you say?  You don't like broccoli?  We'll see about that...

Double Broccoli Quinoa
Adapted from 101cookbooks

This is certainly a fine dish for leftovers or making ahead, but you're best off storing the elements (the quinoa, the broccoli pesto, the toppings) separately and mixing just before serving. Also, as is frequently the case with raw garlic in dishes, the longer the pesto sits, the more potent the garlic flavor gets. If the idea of a strong garlic flavor is off putting to you (or you're planning on bringing the leftovers to work for lunch) consider using less garlic, or roasted garlic in it's place could be nice too.

4-6 servings

3 cups cooked quinoa*
5 cups raw broccoli, cut into small florets and stems
3 medium garlic cloves
2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/3 cup freshly grated Grana Padano
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup milk
crumbled feta
sliced avocado

*To cook quinoa: rinse one cup of dry quinoa in a fine-meshed strainer. In a medium saucepan heat the quinoa, two cups of water, and a few big pinches of salt until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa fluffs up, about 15 minutes. Quinoa is done when you can see the curlique in each grain, and it is tender with a bit of pop to each bite. Drain any extra water and set aside.

In a big pot just barely steam the broccoli florets for 1 minute. They should turn bright green, but remain crisp and sweet. Transfer the broccoli to a strainer and run under cold water until it stops cooking. Set aside.

To make the broccoli pesto puree two cups of the cooked broccoli, the garlic, 1/2 cup of the almonds, Parmesan, salt, lemon juice and red pepper flakes in a food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil and milk and pulse until smooth.

Just before serving, toss the quinoa and remaining broccoli florets with the broccoli pesto. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Turn out onto a serving platter and top with the remaining almonds, some sliced avocado and crumbled feta cheese.

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